2021 Kia Sorento set to muscle

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Chris Paukert, Feb. 17, 2020, RoadShow

You can hardly blame the Kia Sorento for feeling a bit self-conscious lately. After being the king of the Korean automaker's lineup for three generations and nearly two decades, it was recently unceremoniously ousted as the brand's largest and most expensive model by the Telluride, a sharp-looking SUV that's gone on to collect the 2020 North American Utility Vehicle of the Year, among other awards.

So, what's a suddenly second-string three-row SUV to do? Why, go to the gym, splurge on some couture and treat itself to a nice European holiday, of course. And that's exactly what the reborn 2021 Kia Sorento is doing. The new midsize crossover is being previewed ahead of its debut at the Geneva Motor Show this March, and the model features a bold new look encapsulating a new chassis and next-generation tech hardware.

The 2021 Kia Sorrento features a narrower-look riff on the company's well-known "tiger nose" tab grille. This one wraps into a new set of LED headlights more fully than its predecessor did, and the grille itself features more elaborate texturing. At least in these early photos, it's a handsome face, with the elaborately surfaced bumper managing to integrate four fog lamps while somehow avoiding looking contrived.
 

Along the body side, Kia designers have moved the Sorento's A-pillar rearward by a modest 1.2 inches, in search of what Kia is calling a more "cab-rearward design." Reinforced by shorter overhangs front and rear, the 2021 model's more formal proportions are said to make it look longer, though it's hard to tell from these first photos. Likewise, it's hard to tell how successful the unusual protruding shark-fin trim just aft of the second-row doors really is. It's certainly a novel touch that breaks up this SUV's side window graphic, but it does seem fussy.

The Sorento's rear end features a unique vertically oriented two-piece split taillamp, along with a crisply surfaced license-plate panel and a bumper cap displaying well-integrated tailpipe finishers.

So far, Kia isn't detailing what sort of powertrains will be available in the 2021 Sorento. Today's West Point, Georgia-built third-gen model range starts with a modest, naturally aspirated 2.4-liter four-cylinder good for 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque, while uplevel models receive a much more powerful 3.3-liter V6 with 290 hp and 252 pound-feet. Given prevailing market trends, it seems likely that turbocharging may figure into the new model's engine range, if not some sort of electrification.

Although Kia hasn't disclosed what trim these photos show, it's a safe bet it's an upper-end model, as suggested by the quilted leather seats and ambient lighting in the interior photos. The cabin itself looks to be a whole-cloth redo, with Kia touting the model's massive 10.25-inch infotainment screen and matching 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster (it's not clear if these are optional) among other features.
 

The new interior certainly looks upscale, and I particularly like the air vent treatment -- especially the way the center registers are bridged together, bookending the dedicated HVAC controls. It might just be me, but thanks to the satin chrome trim, the center vents almost look like a miniaturized Star Wars spacecraft has been embedded in the dashboard. 

Also evident is a new rotary gear selector, which is particularly interesting because this model's big-brother Telluride features a more conventional gearshift lever (even when its under-the-skin twin, the Hyundai Palisade, does not). Other Sorento features include what looks to be a small drive-mode selector wheel and what Kia is creatively calling "embossed wood-effect surfaces."

We'll have more details and full impressions live from the floor of the 2020 Geneva Motor Show beginning March 3, but at first glance, this 2021 Kia Sorento looks to be a worthy followup to the brand's hot-selling Telluride.

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